She chose not to follow the career path laid out for her and is now reaping the rewards. As she moves into the next phase of her life, she reveals what she’s learned so far.
Meeting in a hip bistro in Southwark, Marsha Oza, the 35-year-old British-born daughter of first-generation Indian immigrants, immediately stands out from the crowd. She’s a lifestyle entrepreneur — business consultant and jeweller — and arrives from the country casually, but elegantly dressed in jeans, jersey and bright teal Wellington boots.
“We’re not Catholics, but we were brought up with a lot of Catholic guilt”, says Marsha. But then, animatedly with quiet confidence she continues, “although, my parents were not traditional Indian parents. I was brought up to believe you’re meant to work hard and strive for success… to go to Oxbridge and become a doctor, dentist, optician or pharmacist”.
Never quite comfortable with this, she was nevertheless a straight A GCSE student. Her mindset was continuously reinforced by her hardworking parents; her father was a prominent businessman who owned a pharmacy in Woodford Green until he retired.
That is, until her worldview was shattered by her mother’s attempted suicide.
It happened during the summer between Marsha finishing her GCSE’s and starting A levels. Her grades slipped to Bs, which was unacceptable at her grammar school. Inevitably, she dropped out and started lurching from job to job in retail and admin, never quite finding what she was looking for. Doing this, she realised that “what my parents told me about life was not necessarily true”.
Throughout our conversation, there’s never an air of self-pity; just an eagerness to follow the trail unfolding in front of her.
Having left home, she looked for jobs on the internet. She applied for a quality management job and landed it knowing nothing about quality management or what the role might entail. She found herself working in the private sector for an organisation helping people into vocational learning and employment. Unexpectedly, she had found a purpose to her life. “It was a worthwhile job, but graft”. It reinforced how her parents would always say that “if it’s painful, it’s because it’s working”.
For the next four years, she moved upwards in the company, eventually managing a budget of seven million pounds and responsible for a staff of 80. It was her first senior management role and she pretty much worked and nothing else. She didn’t eat or sleep properly and had a constant headache. She loved the job, but realised she’d unintentionally walked onto the same treadmill her parents had envisaged, just not in the profession they’d desired for her.
“It got to the point where I was exhausted. Instead of being sharp and ploughing through work, everything took ages to do because it was out of focus and I was overwhelmed”, she recalls, animatedly. But because of a lucky set of circumstances and the contacts she’d built up over the years, she managed to slowly transition into consulting over a period of time.
She moved out of London to Kent and got into a new slower paced life. Consulting in her specialised niche — employability and enterprise contracts — meant she only worked around four months of the year, leaving the remaining time to learn, explore and live, “I don’t believe in work-life balance… I just have a life that blends into one homogenous thing”.
During her slowdown, she’d done a silversmithing course, something she found intriguing. She turned it into another stream of income. It’s not a business she concentrates on as she doesn’t like marketing and doesn’t want to lessen her passion for making jewellery.
Her life is full of learning; piano, economics, knitting, composting, cooking — anything that strikes her fancy. She acknowledges that it’s not all plain sailing to start with; the transition is difficult, with anxiety over cash flow or social anxiety when people ask you what you do for a living, but on balance, she says she loves her life now. “It’s like Montessori for adults”.
She’s also convinced that you don’t need a big plan or even a business strategy to make a move and be happier. She’s learned how to make her life be not about work. For her, life is precious, and you need to pick what you do. Because once that time is gone, it’s gone.
Even her father, now at the age of 75, admits that perhaps working his way through life wasn’t the best course after all. You’d think she’d be delighted with that admission, but she cautions that she’s “spent a lot of time learning to be me… don’t listen to me, find your own story”.